One thing I love about New York is the number of talented artists it hosts, particularly jazz musicians of pure quality and depth. One of these is Philadelphia’s Duane Eubanks, an extraordinarily talented jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, producer and recent recipient of the Philadelphia Education Fund EDDY Award.
Knowing he has also performed with mutual friends, I’ve been following his career and have the pleasure of owning his albums “Things of that Particular Nature” (2015-Sunnyside) and “DE3-Live at Maxwell’s (2016-Sunnyside). I recently had the pleasure and honour to speak to him about his career to date and what’s next on the horizon.
One of the questions artists are asked is how they chose their medium but we already know it’s in your blood; Your mother is pianist Vera Eubanks and your brothers are celebrated trombonist Robin Eubanks and guitarist Kevin Eubanks. I guess my first question is why did you choose the trumpet over any other instrument?
I have a twin brother, Shane… He and I began playing music at the same time. Our brother, Kevin, played trumpet before he played guitar. Robin has always played Trombone. My twin is taller than me by 6 inches, our brothers had old instruments at home so, when it was time to choose instruments, Shane got the longer instrument (the trombone) and I got the shorter instrument – trumpet. I think each instrument has a certain personality that relates to prospective musicians that play them. I feel a special connection to the trumpet. My height was a plus in this situation.
You decided to read business at the University of Maryland. Did you always see yourself becoming a musician and was that choice purely for academic merits?
I studied Business in college because I was fairly good at maths and was impressed by my dad’s corporate dealings and the level of stability with which he lived his life. I was very confused about being a musician when I entered college. I wasn’t even playing when I entered college. I had my years of teenage rebellion and I stopped playing for 6 years (14-20). I missed the very formative years so I had to work really hard to get my playing on a certain level. My brother, Shane, convinced me to join the school band and I became obsessed with the instrument and thus a change of heart in terms of my lifelong ambitions.
Describe your experience studying jazz at Temple University with Dr Billy Taylor and subsequently working with Mulgrew Miller’s Wingspan?
My time at Temple was specifically an attempt to prepare myself for my move to New York. I wanted to be on a certain musical level before I made the move. Temple University awarded me the time to learn and practice. It also awarded me the opportunities to meet and perform, through master classes, with Dr. Billy Taylor and Wynton Marsalis.
I had the absolute honour to perform with the great Mulgrew Miller. I was a member of his band, Wingspan, for ten years. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for Mulgrew taking me under his wing. I grew immensely from this experience and learned in abundance about the realities involved in being a musician, bandleader, and I got to witness, first hand, a genius at work and how he carried himself as a human being. It was a blessing that has shaped me as a musician and I will NEVER forget the experience or him.
You are a recipient of the Philadelphia Education Fund EDDY Award. Can you explain the initiative/award further and the importance music education plays in furthering the careers of young musicians?
The Philadelphia Education Fund stands very firmly for all aspects dealing with high quality education. They are advocates for quality teachers, quality learning environments and the overall quality of students’ learning experience.
I received an EDDY award as an advocate for education. It was an honour to be chosen along with my brothers, Robin and Kevin, to receive this education award. Education is the key to our nation’s future. I have accepted the responsibility to share the information that I have gained through my years of experience to ensure the proper information is passed in order to sustain the high level of the music that I love. The generations before me did the same so I could learn. Prospective musicians have a right and a responsibility to learn and those with the experience have a responsibility to share/teach. I, personally, put the responsibility on both student and teacher.
That’s very admirable and congratulations on receiving the award. I’ve heard American jazz artist talk about the popularity of the genre declining but surely this isn’t the case? Moreover, jazz continues to be very popular globally. What’s your view?
I think the popularity of jazz will always be an issue being discussed. Many have no idea that jazz WAS the popular music in the early part of the century. It has lost its place in popular music but is still very relevant to a number of people. If it wasn’t , there wouldn’t be so many musicians trying to learn the art form. In Europe, where I think cultural values and advances are praised, supported, and upheld, communities have far more access to things of artistic expression (music, art, literature, etc.) I don’t see that kind of dedication to the uplifting of the minds of the American people. Jazz music gives the listener the opportunity to open their minds, think freely, and absorb a different approach to a general situation. The emphasis on the importance of the arts has been gravely overlooked. I think it’s hindering the advancement, exposure, and the quality of the arts and society as a whole.
To date, not only have you worked in jazz but across many genres, at many venues and with a number of notable artists. What has been the highlight of your career to date and why?
I am extremely proud of the fact that I have worked in many different genres of music in many different settings. I think it is very important for musicians to keep an open mind when it comes to crossing genres when performing. It allows you to grow as an artist and opens yourself to prospective fans of your craft. I have to say that working with the legendary Elvin Jones would have to be at the top of the list. I constantly thank my man, Bassist, Gerald Cannon for making it possible for me to be a part of Elvin’s band. I still wear the shirts we had to wear. I got to witness, first hand, the spiritual element of the music. I guess it was easy for him from playing so many years with John Coltrane, but it was an awesome experience to watch him play his heart and soul every night on every tune. It made me aware of the fact that music is spirit and the lack of it in today’s artists.
Who is at the top of your list to work with next if you’re given the opportunity?
Work with next? I have ALWAYS been on a mission to learn as much as possible from my predecessors. I have a list of guys in mind…. George Cables, Victor Lewis, Billy Hart, Harold Mabern, to name a few. I have worked with Dave Holland’s Big Band. I would love to experience that again and would embrace the opportunity to do a smaller group with him. I would also like to do a something different like 3 trumpets with incredible talents that walk with humility (no ego – I can’t do egos, especially trumpet egos) perhaps Josh Evans and Roy Hargrove… that would be fun.
I forgot to add, working with my brothers Robin and Kevin. I think that is something not only I would look forward to but many in the industry as well. Also Roy Haynes!! The thing about music is that there are plenty of ways to learn, people to learn from and plenty of music to make.
Following the successful release of ‘DE3: Live at Maxwells’ and ‘Things of that Particular Nature’ when should we expect another album?
I am very proud of my latest releases. They were well received and a lot of fun to produce. They were much needed learning experiences. You can expect something in 2018. I am performing a weekend at Smalls December 15 & 16. These dates may become commercially released performances.
Are you happy to share anything else currently in the pipeline?
Someone very wise and very close to me advised me not to share everything that I was up to. While you are working out your plans, someone has already implemented them. I am working on music for a number of recording ideas. One specific recording project I am really excited about. Everyone will know when things get put into motion. I now realize the importance of being creative when promoting myself. That being said, we did a mini documentary with the intention to draw some attention to my willingness to teach. This mini documentary has been accepted by a few independent film festivals. In general, keep your ears open for future recording projects. They are coming!
I look forward to witnessing more from Duane and wish him the very best with his career. For further information please visit his website. www.DuaneEubanks.com